Marie saw the old spyglass in the window of that junk store on 5th street she liked to stop in after work sometimes. It was brass and had the natural patina of a couple of centuries or more, not like that fake stuff you find out of India. She walked inside, the door tinkling that familiar little bell overhead, and Mr. Nelson, the old guy who ran the place, shambled over from somewhere, some dark corner of musty books and unwound clocks.
"Afternoon Miss Marie," he said. He was stooped over with the weight of ages. "Did you need something?"
"I noticed that spyglass in the window. I haven't seen it before."
"Yes, that is a special piece. I got it in only today." He shuffled over to the window display, his wake wafting a cobweb here and there, and retrieved the spyglass and its ancient leather case. The case was dark and stained. "There you are."
She held it and it felt cold and heavy. The case had an odd smell but nothing some airing out couldn't cure.
"Alexander would love this. It's his birthday today."
"Is he your husband?"
She paused. "Well, not exactly."
"How much did you want for it?"
Mr. Nelson put his craggy hands on hers and closed the case around the spyglass. "No charge dear."
"Oh, Mr. Nelson, I can't just take it. Let me pay you." She reached for her purse, but he held up an admonishing finger.
"I'll not hear of it. Now you run along."
"Thank you, Mr. Nelson."
"Thank you, dear." He moved off, back into the dim recesses of the bookcases and shelves that leaned at many and various angles, and she walked back out into the light with the musty leather case in her hands.
When she got to the loft she shared with Alexander (what was it, five years now?) he wasn't home yet. She opened the patio door and listened to the waves on the beach across the street. He was out there somewhere, baiting hooks on the charter boat for drunken tourists, listening to them talk about whatever dentists from Minnesota talk about, lying about how he'd never had anyone catch a grouper that big on his boat.
She mixed up some batter and got a cake in the oven and then sat down on the wicker swing out on the patio. Soon she was asleep.
The smoke woke her up. "Damn it all," she said, jumping up from the swing. The apartment was full of smoke. She opened the over door, waving smoke around and grabbed the cake with a potholder. It was a charred brick now and while she was trying to figure out what to do with it, Alexander walked it.
"Hey babe, having fun?"
She smiled and said, "Happy birthday."
"Should I blow that out?"
"Would you? I'm sorry about this. I had grand plans." She dropped the cake in the sink and waved the smoke out of her face.
"Thought that counts, right? What's this?"
He picked up the leather case.
She put a hand over her face. She hadn't wrapped it. Strike two.
"It's your present. It was supposed to be a surprise."
"I am surprised."
He opened the case and took out the old spyglass.
"Very cool," he said, pulling on the eye piece to extend it to its full length. He put it to his eye and something happened to his face, a tightening like he was in pain. He put a hand on the counter and steadied himself.
"Are you alright?" Marie said.
He nodded. "Yeah, I just felt ... sick. Out of nowhere." He put the spyglass down on the counter. "I think I need to lay down."
He walked to the bedroom and she followed him.
"Are you sure you're OK, babe?"
He nodded again and got on the bed, still wearing his fishy clothes but she didn't say anything. She laid down next to him and traced a finger on his arm. It was brown from the sun.
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
He shook his head and closed his eyes. There were tears in hers from the smoke but it wasn't so bad in the bedroom with the fan on and the patio door open and the waves outside. She watched him sleep, wondering what could be wrong.
- - -
He was on a boat. No, a ship. He'd spent his entire life on boats but this wasn't a boat. He was on a bed in a cabin of some sort, a once ornate cabin that was now dark and dank. The wet bed smelled like a grave. He got up and lurched over to windows made of diamond-shaped panes of glass, throwing them open. The night sky was black and a full moon glowed low on the horizon, casting rippling luminescence on the dark waves. The air smelled like salt and copper.
He leaned out for fresh air and a wave struck the ship, splashing him. It was thicker than any sea he'd sailed on and in the light of the giant moon he could see that he was covered not with water but blood. He could taste it in his mouth.
Recoiling, he ran to the cabin door, yanking it open by the lichen-covered handle. Another wave struck the ship and he fell out onto a rotten deck. The sails flapped wetly. They hung heavy on the masts, like huge sheets of untanned flesh, and below the sheets were the oarsmen. They turned to look at him without stopping their eternal task. The sight of so many eyeless sockets, so many dripping bones, froze him motionless. Their skeletal fingers gripped the handles with the rigor of death and they pulled the heavy oars back against dripping rib cages while some unseen horror beat the rowing rhythm on a heavy drum.
Turning, his eyes shot toward the helm. There was a bony captain at the wheel, an undead navigator who paid him no notice. The captain moved the wheel by degrees and reached into a leather case. It was then that Alexander ran to the moldering rail. He grabbed it and pieces of spongy wood came off in his hand, dropping into the sanguine sea. He took a last mad glance at the horrors of the galley and the captain looked at him. Those delicate bone hands shut the spyglass, the same spyglass Marie had given him, and tucked it back in the case, and Alexander cast himself over the rail into the irony filth below.
- - -
Marie opened her eyes. She'd dozed off watching Alexander and for some reason she was soaking wet. "What now?" she said aloud, still half sleeping, and rolled over, throwing her arm over him. Alexander wasn't there though. Her arm landed in thick wetness and she woke completely, lashing out at the lamp and switching it on. Alexander was gone and she was covered in blood. Blood and something green. She screamed and tore it from her fingers. It was seaweed.